2 Peter 3:18
But grow in grace, and in the knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. To him be glory both now and for ever. Amen.
I. I ask, first, INTO WHAT WE ARE TO GROW? Now, the Revised Version throws some light upon the connection of the two things specified in my text by a very slight but significant alteration. It reads, "grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Saviour." Both are connected with Him; He is the source of the grace; He is the object of the knowledge. Thus we get the thought that all our Christian progress, in its deepest meaning, consists in penetrating more deeply into Christ, and what He has and is. We hear a great deal about "progress" in these days; and very much of it consists in departure from Jesus Christ. Those of us who know and possess most of Him have but a drop from the great ocean; one sparkle from the star; a pittance from the storehouse. We have an infinite treasure, and our growing wealth consists in our pressing further into its rooms filled with bullion, and taking more and more of Him into ourselves. For, again, the true notion of Christian progress consists in the growing reception of a gift. We advance, not by our own unaided efforts. Reception is growth; and the more we open our hearts to receive, the more we advance in the Christian life. Instead of toilsomely trying to struggle up the steep mountain, we are borne up on wings as eagles. Hence the blessed distinctive mark of Christian progress is that, in the midst of the most strenuous efforts, there may be perpetual calm. To have more of Christ — that is growth. But if we look at the two points which the apostle separates here, a word may be said about each of them. Our reception of Jesus Christ is a growing reception of His grace. Now, "grace" here seems to mean, not so much His undeserved love to inferiors, as the consequences of that love in His gifts to us. Or, to put it into other words, what is meant by "the grace of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ" in this connection is the bestowing upon us, in our spirits, that we may work them out and manifest them in our lives, all the excellences and virtues of a Christlike character. And I lay this on your hearts, that growth in grace is not so much the blessedness of private, personal experience, or the welling up of certain emotions in heart and mind, as conduct in the life, aspiring after, and showing in exercise "whatsoever things are lovely and of good report." If these things be in you, and grow in you, you are growing in grace. Then consider the other side of this exhortation — grow in the "knowledge of Christ." That probably concerns mainly what we call intellectual processes, and yet not altogether. For if it is a Person that is known, then the process of knowing cannot be altogether a mere matter of dry brain-work. It may be enough to begin the Christian life that a man should have but a little acquaintance with Jesus Christ, but there is not enough to keep it up unless that acquaintance is ever growing, becomes tenderer, deeper, quieter, more assured, more impossible to be ever altered. There is no fear of exhausting Christ! But we may look at this exhortation in a slightly different way. "Grow in the knowledge of Jesus Christ" means not only grow in personal acquaintance with Him, but grow in the perception of the truths which are embodied in His person and work. Now, there is a great deal of so-called progress in Christian knowledge which largely consists in getting away from the initial truths and going out into other regions. That is not growth; that is decay. For the initial truths are the most important truths, and when a man has learned that "God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son that whosoever believeth on Him should not perish, but have everlasting life," he has learned what only needs to be pondered upon and followed out, and above all lived by, in order that it shall open into a boundless universe of truth and wisdom. Progress into Christ is like that of the bee that buries itself more deeply into the flower, and draws honey from its innermost recesses. First Christ may be seen as but a speck, then He is a disc of brightness in the dark, and then he is a flaming sun that lightens all the sky.
II. HOW ARE WE TO GROW? My text is a commandment; therefore growth comes through our own efforts. Now, there are many metaphors in the New Testament for this conception of Christian progress. One set of them represents it as being spontaneous, automatic, effortless. As, for instance, when our Lord says, "First the blade, then the ear, then the full corn in the ear , there is no effort there. But that is only one side of the truth. Another side to the answer to the question, How we are to grow? is involved, as I have just said, in the fact that we are commanded to do so. So, very characteristically, when the Apostle Paul speaks of this same subject he rarely uses the metaphor of growth. And what are the figures which he prefers? The race, which implies strenuous strain of the muscles, and is not to be won without effort, dust, and sweat. The fight, for there is resistance to be faced and overcome. With these figures my text falls in, and suggests that there can be no growth in the Christian life without strenuous endeavour. No doubt the progress of the Christian life consists mainly in reception, but reception is not passive. If you do not hold the cup out, it will not be filled. What, then, have we to do? First, and mainly, to keep very near to our Lord. Communion with Jesus Christ is the secret of all growth. If we are close by Him, He will pour Himself into our hearts. Food is needed for growth. If a Christian starves his soul by neglecting to feed on the bread which came down from heaven, no wonder that he is stunted. Exercise is essential for growth. Unused muscles atrophy, like the fakir's arm that has been held up for twenty years in one position, and now is stiff and rigid as a bar of iron. Use the grace that you have, and practise the truth that you are sure of, and the grace will grow and other truths will be made clear.
III. Lastly, WHAT HAPPENS TO US IF WE DO NOT GROW? My text begins with a "but," and that throws us back to what goes before. The connection which is thus established is very noteworthy and monitory. "Beware lest ye also... fall from your own steadfastness; but grow." So, then, the only way to prevent falling is growth; and if you are not growing, you are certainly falling. No weight will stand at rest on an inclined plane. If it is not being hauled up it will be hurtling down. The student who is not advancing in his science will forget what he has learned. Water that stagnates gathers a scum. The talent that is wrapped in a napkin rusts; and the oxidising diminishes its weight and also dims its brightness. I feel ,that all our churches are full of cases of arrested development. Let me put a plain question: Are we more like Jesus Christ than we were a year ago? Let us remember that the process of growth begun here will go on for ever.
(A. Maclaren, D. D.)
Parallel VersesKJV: But grow in grace, and in the knowledge of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. To him be glory both now and for ever. Amen.